Terror And Respect! Zander Cannon Introduces Us To Kaijumax
From Oni Press and two-time Eisner winner Zander Cannon (Heck, Top 10) comes a fantastic new ongoing series entitled Kaijumax. The story focuses on a maximum security prison, Kaijumax, which holds the worst monsters away from the rest of the human world. Villains, anti-heroes, eco-parables, and nuclear metaphors are all included. Below you will find an interview with creator Zander Cannon, in which he discusses his career thus far, his new project, and more!
Christine Marie: Hi Zander! It's an honor to be chatting with you here on Bleeding Cool.
Zander Cannon: For me as well! Thanks!
CM: You've been involved in comics since the mid-1990s. Can you tell our readers a little bit about how you got started in the industry, and what the ups and downs of that were like?
ZC: When I got started (1993), the industry was going through a big boom and so I kind of got a running start. All the big stars were young guys, and so it was an accepted strategy for publishers to bet on promising newcomers. So right out of the gate I was writing and drawing a comic series (that was quickly canceled). But my problem was kind of that I didn't fit in anywhere exactly. My style wasn't exactly mainstream, but it wasn't what you would call indie, either, so I kind of bounced from the big publishers to the small publishers, then over to commercial art and storyboards and illustration.
And I think this is a common feeling in comics, especially these days, I feel like I'm ALWAYS getting started in the industry. It can be very hard to get momentum if you aren't exactly the type of thing people are looking for. Because I didn't fit a company style at any of the big publishers, I was always kind of a case-by-case guy. They knew I could do it — write it, draw it, whatever — but I was never an obvious choice because I wasn't obviously mainstream or obviously indie.
My most lasting gigs at mainstream publishers (DC, in this case) have been doing layouts for mainstream or Vertigo books, like Fables, Fairest, Bodies, Justice League, Superboy, Pandora, Phantom Stranger, etc. Usually I'll get a "special thanks" credit. I find that sort of work-for-hire to be the most satisfying, since it's great practice, doesn't take very long, and it's specialized work that not many people are qualified to do (and if they are, they're usually too busy). I like it since it allows me to work as the reliable journeyman rather than the fussy artist. You need it by Friday? I'll get it to you Thursday. There are all too many times in my career that I've fussed over small details and ground to a halt and screwed up a schedule, and so to have some constant practice just knocking things out is pretty helpful.
CM: Did you always know that you wanted to write/draw comics? Who were your biggest inspirations, and have they changed over the years?
ZC: My inspirations were always the artists who were kind of on the fence between adventure and humor. All my favorite books growing up (80s, mostly) were kind of indie genre parodies, like Groo, Ralph Snart, Zooniverse, Ultra Klutz, Eye of Mongombo, and so forth, or mainstream artists who brought a lot of humor to their work, like Alan Davis or Bill Sienkiewicz or Geof Darrow.
As a kid, I wasn't into comics as much, since they'd kind of retreated to the specialty comics stores and I didn't really see the good stuff until I was 11 or 12. Once I found them, my previous ambition to be an animator went away, and when I discovered that minicomics were something you could do (through the work of Matt Feazell), I was hooked on the idea of doing a whole visual story all by myself.
CM: You've worked on projects such as The Replacement God, Top 10, Smax, the award-winning Heck and many more. Which one stands out the most for you, and why?
ZC: Well, the Replacement God defined me as an artist for a long time, and I still have plenty of people asking if I'm going to finish it (I will, in time), and Top 10 and Smax — I mean, working with Alan Moore and Gene Ha taught me a million things about comics and permanently raised my profile in the industry, and I cannot underestimate how much that has helped me through the years.
But Heck looms pretty large for me for a couple reasons. One is that it changed the course of my career of late; the critical attention opened a lot of doors and got a lot of emails responded to that might not have happened otherwise. Another reason is that it was an experiment that allowed me to knock the dust off of some of my writing skills. Since the book was drawn so simply and so fast, I could do a lot of revising of the story and experimenting with a scene without worrying about chucking a bunch of elaborate drawings. The main reason, though, was that it was the first story that I'd written where I really let my emotions and my inner life take the reins of the book, and turn it into an actual emotional journey instead of a high-concept romp. It was a turning point in my life creatively, from a business perspective, and personally, as it let me push through some hard times and really have something to show for it.
CM: You're releasing a new series entitled Kaijumax, which focuses on a maximum security prison that holds the worst monsters, keeping them away from the rest of the human world. Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind this project? Have you always been a Kaiju guy?
ZC: I haven't always been a kaiju guy. I liked monster movies when I saw them (and I recall being pretty scared by The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms), but it was never an obsession. The thing that got me back into them in the last 6 or 7 years was that I bought a DVD set of Ultraman for my son, who was about 3 at the time. Jin is Korean, and I wanted to find a kid's show with an Asian hero. He and I and my wife must have watched all of those episodes 10 times. He got so into it that he and I would do the "Specium Beam" crossed-arm laser zap at each other when I would drop him off at daycare. So watching this insane but repetitive show got me thinking about all the tropes and character types and monster types and once I started analyzing it somewhat, I couldn't get enough of these movies. The last several years have been all about buying every last DVD, watching every last Netflix or YouTube video, or downloading every last bootleg monster movie I could.
But when it came to making it into a comic series, I really didn't like the idea of just doing a pastiche of old monster movies. I wanted to add something new to it, and so I took the idea of a prison (and all the storytelling conventions that come with it) and laid it on top of all of these goofy technicolor monsters, and that mismatch ends up doing a lot of the heavy lifting, humor-wise. And it adds a lot of what I always wanted the monster movies to give me. What were the relationships between the monsters? Does one look up to the other? Does one hate the other, or have a grudging respect? It wasn't too much of a stretch to see the same sorts of power dynamics in that situation that you might have in HBO's Oz, for example.
CM: I was lucky enough to get to read the first issue, and I found it to be highly entertaining. The main character, Electrogor is in a tricky situation, being away from his family and having to fit into a prison setting where roles and reputations are already established. While that sounds like a normal reaction to a new guy being thrown into a foreign environment, the bizarre cast of characters give it a different feel. Can you share some information about your process creating an environment like this with such unique characters?
ZC: Thanks! Well, reading and watching a lot of prison stories as well as every monster movie I can find provides a lot of ideas, for sure. I like getting a sense for the standard prison characters, like the gangland underling, the quiet lifer, the drug fiend, etc. and then layering that onto monster archetypes as the tokusatsu films have given us: the king of the monsters, the protector of children, the pagan god, the cryptid, etc.
I also like to always think about relationships, even more so than character archetypes. The story is about how one character feels about another, what they owe them, what power they have over them, and so forth. That's everything in a prison, and for me that ties everything in the story together. It's easy enough to string together a bunch of events and give them a good beginning and end, but the little incidental meetings and conversations are where I think — I hope — you will find the story's heart and depth.
Lastly, the process of being both writer and artist lets me really have a strong feedback loop in terms of little details. If I drop in a small visual detail to fill out a monster design or a background element, it sticks in my mind and I then start thinking about what it means and how I can fit it into a plot. To be able to fit extra plot, character, and conceptual elements in on the fly is — to me — the most satisfying part of being a cartoonist.
CM: You post a fair amount on social media about your son Jin's reactions to things. Does he know about Kajumax? What does he think of Kaiju generally?
ZC: He thinks Kaiju are pretty cool; he will always tell me he thought of a cool monster that I could put in Kaijumax if I want. Generally speaking he'd rather play Minecraft or Pokemon than watch monster movies, but sometimes I can get him to watch All Monsters Attack or King Kong Escapes with me.
CM: Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join me here on Bleeding Cool! I look forward to readers experiencing Kaijumax when it releases on April 8th!
ZC: Thanks! I really appreciate it!
Christine Marie is a Staff Writer at Bleeding Cool, and bibliomaniac with a love for all things creative. She hopes to one day be a Superhero/Disney Princess/Novelist. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @AWritersWay or on her blog writerchristinemarie.wordpress.com.
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